There’s something charming about a one-industry town, a place whose name is so synonymous with its main attraction that it’s practically shorthand. You’d never visit Pebble Beach without your nine-iron in tow, say, or pass through Whistler without hitting the slopes. Maranello, Italy, is one of those places. Since the early 1940s, it’s been known as one thing, and one thing only: the home of Ferrari.
The locals would hardly let you forget it. A five-metre-tall prancing horse — rendered in gleaming stainless steel — greets you in the centre of town. You can eat pasta at a Ferrari-themed restaurant, spend the night at a Ferrari-themed hotel, and buy virtually anything you can imagine with a Ferrari logo stamped on it, at any number of stores.
To be fair, they have good reason to be proud. A quick tour of the legendary automaker’s pristine, ultramodern campus makes that clear beyond question. There are the assembly halls, in which some 7,000 su- percars are built each year — full of natural light, vegetation, and relaxation areas to keep workers’ spirits high. There’s the sculptural, $10-million wind tunnel, designed by famed Italian architect Renzo Piano. There’s the iconic Fiorano Circuit, the private racetrack upon which the likes of Michael Schumacher and Kimi Räikkönen have tested and perfected the Scuderia Ferrari vehicles that would bring them F1 glory. And smack in the middle of it all is the Design Centre — Ferrari’s creative hub, its brain, and the most secure building on its grounds.
On a scorching Wednesday in mid-June, I’m given a rare chance to venture past the Design Centre’s heavy steel doors. The interior is largely what I’d expected: an airline hangar crossed with Q’s workshop from the last couple Bond movies. The room is vast, mostly white, and nearly unfurnished, save for a small reception desk and sleek oval conference table. Two of the Centre’s sleekest recent creations — the Japan exclusive J50 and the frighteningly powerful 812 Superfast — flank either end of the space on rotating platforms, sparkling beneath the floodlights. The back wall is roughly four and a half metres high and painted bright Ferrari red, and it separates this meeting area from the rest of the studio. Beyond it, I can hear the design team hard at work on the top-secret plans for Ferrari’s next great supercar.
Their boss, the man I’m here to see, sits patiently at the conference table as I enter. Flavio Manzoni has been Ferrari’s design director since the turn of the decade, and has masterminded some of the Italian marque’s finest automobiles — namely, the LaFerrari, California T, and 488 GTB. Like the Centre itself, Manzoni is much as I imagined: tall and lean, dressed sharply in black, with close-cropped hair and a studious, bespectacled face. The 52-year-old former architect is known to be fairly reserved in nature, but today there’s something of a twinkle in his eye. He’s here, after all, to talk about something of which he’s very proud. And, spoiler alert: it’s not a car.
“If you wish, I can tell you how we made this crazy project,” he offers politely in a charming Italian accent, beaming as he shakes my hand.
The reason I was summoned here, the object Manzoni wishes to gush over, is a watch. More specifically, it’s the Hublot Techframe Ferrari 70 Years Tourbillon Chronograph — the very first watch ever designed by Ferrari, built to commemorate the company’s 70th anniversary.
What would a pure Ferrari timepiece look like? What if they applied the same language, vision, and processes used to formulate the sexiest vehicles on earth to build an entirely new watch from the ground up?
Gearheads and horology enthusiasts insist that Ferrari’s had watch partnerships for decades, and its current one with Hublot is already six years and several dozen co-branded timepieces deep. This is true. But while many of those Ferrari-inspired Hublots have been striking, they’ve all been just that: Ferrari-inspired. None have come directly from the building I’m sitting in now — purely from the minds that work within it — and certainly none of them were developed without Hublot’s knowledge.
A couple of years ago, after assisting Hublot with a few supercar-aping design elements for its recently released Big Bang Ferrari Unico, Manzoni was struck by an interesting question: what would a pure Ferrari timepiece look like? What if he applied the same language, vision, and processes he used to formulate the sexiest vehicles on earth to build an entirely new watch from the ground up? To find the answer, he charged a couple of his top lieutenants on the Ferrari design team to secretly begin drafting a theoretical Hublot watch.
After a full year of development, what they came up with was something wholly fresh and pioneering in the world of watches. The titular Techframe, for one, refers to the case: a stunning lattice structure designed, much like the chassis of a supercar, to be as lightweight and aerodynamic as possible while retaining maximum strength.
“The idea was to visually express its lightness, as we normally do with our cars,” Manzoni says. “The form of a Ferrari is conceived by the subtraction of materials, to create natural channels for airflow. That relationship between full volume and voids is an essential part of the Ferrari DNA, and we wanted to transfer that to the watch.”
Under the hood, there’s an all-new manual-wind Hublot manufacture movement, rotated several degrees to alter the location of the tourbillon and place the crown and single chronograph pusher — rendered in a blaze of Ferrari red — at three and four o’clock, respectively. “It creates a very nice dynamic imbalance,” Manzoni explains of the shift. “But there was also an ergonomic intention behind it. We wanted to create a watch for a Ferrari driver, and this placement is ideal for him to access the crown and chronograph function while he is behind the wheel.”
It’s the fine details, though, that truly set the Techframe apart. Unaccustomed to working with such a tiny canvas, the designers pored over every square millimetre to give each element a distinct Ferrari flavour: the dials and hands borrow forms normally used on dashboard instruments. “If it is visible,” Manzoni says, “it must be very beautiful — not only functional.”
With the jaw-dropping design complete, there was only one step left: getting Hublot on board. Some watch designers might have balked at the apparent arrogance of a carmaker attempting to do their job better than they can, but the Swiss house was thrilled by Ferrari’s initiative. “The only thing they needed to be convinced of,” Manzoni chuckles, “was our logo appearing a bit bigger than theirs on the dial.” Eventually, though, Hublot conceded that point, and three editions of the watch — in gold, titanium, and carbon — will be released this fall in a highly limited run of 70 apiece.
In person, the watch is truly a sight to behold — lightweight and fiercely beautiful — even in the presence of the vehicles in the room. It’s a fitting testament to both the seven-decade legacy of an automotive giant and the exacting workmanship of its preferred Swiss watchmaker.
As we wrap up our meeting and I prepare to leave, Manzoni continues to admire the prototype on his wrist, with the original sketches laid out on the table before him. “Sometimes it looks like a spaceship, not like a watch,” he says quietly, almost to himself. Given his proficiency in trading supercars for wristwatches — and switching gears on a whim — I’m not convinced a Ferrari spaceship isn’t what he’ll cook up next.